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How to Prepare for Natural Birth (In the Hospital or Not)

If you’re planning a natural birth, you’re probably wondering how best to prepare. From eating well to knowing what coping techniques to practice, this blog post covers everything you need to know about preparing for your natural birth.

pregnant woman relaxing

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Though most women in America still give birth in hospitals, “natural birth” is becoming more popular.

Natural birth really should be called “unmedicated birth,” though, because all birth is natural, whether it’s medicated or not. I talk more about that in Understanding “Natural Childbirth” (and 7 Reasons You Might Want to Do It Too).

Still, I’ll use “natural birth” in this blog post for the sake of simplicity.

Regardless of what it’s called, how does one prepare for natural birth? It’s an important question to ask because there’s a big difference between simply choosing to go without the epidural and planning to labor and give birth without intervention and medication.

Choosing to prepare for your natural birth will make it a much more pleasant experience. If you prepare in the ways we’re about to talk about, you’ll know what to expect during labor and you’ll have the tools to handle it. 

Can You Have a Natural Birth in the Hospital?

First things first: can you have a natural, unmedicated birth in the hospital?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: You certainly can, but it might be harder than if you were somewhere else, like a birth center or at home. This is true for a few reasons.

The obvious one is that with an epidural readily available, it may be harder for moms to really give other coping methods a chance.

In the hospital you also have less control over your surroundings, like how bright the lights are, who comes in and out and how often, and what kind of sounds you’re hearing. Each of those things can help or harm the kind of environment a woman needs to be able to cope well with contractions. 

The other reason a natural birth might be harder at a hospital than at home is that hospitals have set systems and routines that can make it hard for staff to do anything other than what is always done.

Those in the medical field are trained to see birth as a medical event. And it is important that we have people who know what can go wrong and what to do when it does. But the vast majority of the time, birth will proceed safely and effectively if left alone.

So the tendency to turn to medicine and technology and to expect all women to progress through labor quickly usually does more harm than good. 

Midwives Achieve Better Birth Outcomes

It’s also worth pointing out that midwives achieve better birth outcomes than OBGYNs. And midwives outside of hospitals have even better outcomes than midwives in hospitals. We’re talking higher rates of vaginal birth and breastfeeding and lower rates of c-section, preterm birth, and neonatal death.

That means that giving birth outside of the hospital with a midwife will increase your chances of giving birth naturally.

How to Prepare for Your Natural Birth

With that said, let’s dig into how to prepare. Most of these things apply whether you choose to give birth in the hospital or out.

You can choose which of these things to do and to what degree. But all of them will help you to be prepared – in body and mind – for what labor will bring.

Choose Your Birth Team

Of all the things you will do to prepare for your natural birth, choosing who will be there with you might be the most significant. Of course you will need to choose who you want as your primary care provider, whether that be a midwife or an OBGYN.

They’ll take care of your prenatal care and be the main attendant at your birth.

It’s also a really good idea to choose one person (or more) who can be with you from the start of labor till the end. Having a continuous support person has huge benefits and can even reduce your experience of pain.

READ MORE >> Why You Need a Support Person at Your Birth

Eat Well

Another thing to start as soon as you know you’re pregnant is to focus on eating well. Protein, salt, and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables are so important for the development of your baby.

A good diet also nourishes your body so that you are strong, flexible, and energized, all of which will make labor easier. 

I recommend following The Brewer Pregnancy Diet, which provides a good guide for knowing you’re getting what you and your baby need, especially if you’re not used to eating a particularly nutrient-dense diet.

Exercise

Staying active will help your body be ready to labor effectively. It also can boost your mood and alleviate some aches and pains during pregnancy.

Any workout you are comfortable doing during pregnancy will support you as you prepare for your natural birth. But you can do specific labor prep exercises.

The exercises I talk about in 6 Exercises to Prepare Your Body for Labor help to tone your legs, glutes, pelvic floor, and other areas that will be important during labor.

And the more ready your body is to move and get into positions that help labor progress, the easier and less painful labor will be.

Practice Coping Techniques

Learning about and practicing different coping methods is so important if you want to give birth without medication. This is one of the things that takes you from just going without the epidural to really being ready for a great natural birth experience. 

There are a zillion ideas for coping out there, but don’t get overwhelmed. All coping techniques fall into 5 categories: movement, touch, self-calming, words, and environment.

To learn about each and specific ways to use them during labor, check out How to Cope With Contractions: Natural Pain Relief During Labor.

Learn

Educating yourself during pregnancy is vital if you want to have a good natural birth experience. It may not seem like there’s much you need to know, but trust me, there is. And you’ll be glad you took the time to learn it.

Learning can look like reading books or listening to podcasts. It could be watching videos (from trustworthy sources). It also includes taking a childbirth class.

I highly recommend you take a childbirth class. The Bradley Method, Lamaze, and HypnoBirthing are the big 3 that people have usually heard of. All of them teach valuable information, but I recommend The Bradley Method over the others. 

Bradley classes are usually 12 weeks, which may seem long but that means there is ample time to cover lots of important topics.

The Bradley Method also focuses on nutrition and on the risks of interventions and medications that are common in hospitals, both of which are vital for pregnant women to understand.

I go into depth about The Bradley Method and compare it to both Lamaze and HypnoBirthing in Choosing a Natural Childbirth Class: Comparing the Big 3

Address Your Emotions

Talking about your emotions may seem totally unrelated to giving birth but hear me out. 

Emotions affect our bodies. Think about it: when you’re embarrassed, your face turns red. Being nervous makes your stomach twist and turn. Stress causes ulcers.

So why would it be any different when we’re giving birth?

If you’re scared that birth is going to be excruciatingly painful, you’ll be unable to relax during labor and then it really will be painful.

If you’re worried that you won’t be a good enough mom or that you won’t be able to provide a good life for your child, you might subconsciously keep labor from progressing. And then you might have to have an operative vaginal birth or a c-section.

And the list could go on.

If you don’t address your fears and negative beliefs before labor begins, chances are you’ll make labor that much harder for yourself.

Gather Supplies + Pack Your Bags

Once you’ve done all the prep work of eating well and moving your body and talking through your emotions and more, the last thing to do is get everything ready for the actual birth.

If you plan to give birth in the hospital or at a birth center, you’ll want to pack your bag a few weeks before your estimated due date. Be sure to include necessities for you, your baby, and your spouse or partner.

If your hospital or birth center allows you to bring extra things like oils, music, or lights, be sure to pack those too.

If you plan to give birth at home, you’ll need to gather a few supplies. Many of the things you’ll need you’ll already have around the house. These will be things like towels and sheets. You can find a checklist of all the items you’ll need in The Ultimate List of Home Birth Supplies.

If your midwife doesn’t provide a birth kit, you’ll need to assemble your own. Check out Everything You Need for a Home Birth Kit (According to a Midwife) to learn how.

Simple But Not Easy

Birth is beautifully simple. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy to prepare, especially if you’re planning a natural birth.

As you do each of the things we talked about in this blog post – choose your birth team, eat well, exercise, practice coping techniques, learn, address your emotions, and gather or pack supplies – remember that it’s all for your little one.

Everything you do during pregnancy has the potential to help you and your baby have a better labor and birth experience. That’s worth every effort.

Until next time,

Allison

READ MORE:

5 Natural Birth Books That Everyone Should Read

Are Home Births Safe?

Medications During Labor: Is It Worth the Risk?

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